ALLEN — As early as the opening kickoff of Friday’s opener in the 22nd annual Tom Landry Classic, Allen senior Jaylen Jenkins put a resounding footprint on the Eagles’ first game under new head coach Chad Morris.
The Allen running back accounted for the game’s first points 14 seconds into the night on a 94-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. There was plenty more to come, as the Eagles’ star rusher logged three more rushing touchdowns and accrued 204 more yards on the ground to fuel a 56-30 victory from Eagle Stadium over Plano East.
“We know [Jenkins] can definitely be dynamic and he showed that right from the start with that opening kickoff,” Morris said. “There’s a lot of stuff to clean up, though. It’s our first game with a lot of unknowns, but I loved our effort. I thought we played hard.”
Jenkins capitalized on an inauspicious start to the night for the Panthers. East’s kickoff team was flagged for a delay of game on the evening’s opening kickoff, which averted a touchback by senior Buzz Flabiano. That sequence loomed large, as Jenkins took the re-kick 94 yards to the house for a 7-0 lead with 11:46 left in the opening quarter.
“I told my teachers to watch for that opening kickoff,” Jenkins said. “If they gave me a lane, I was going to take it.”
The Eagles’ offense struck a familiar explosiveness in its first game under Morris, and most thanks to its ground game. Allen finished the ballgame with 313 yards on the ground, good for 10.8 per carry, with Jenkins, junior Devyn Turner and sophomores Mike Hawkins and Kayvion Sibley, as well as an offensive line that returns four starters from last season, all chipping into the effort.
Jenkins was at the forefront with his 200-plus-yard blitzkrieg, logging rushing touchdowns of 34, 15 and 90 yards on the night — doing his damage on just nine carries for good measure.
Turner found the end zone in the first quarter on a 25-yard run and Sibley punctuated drives with scores of 5 and 1 yards. Hawkins, making his first start behind center, passed for 204 yards and a touchdown, and managed 41 yards on the ground.
“We were going to come in running the football and take some shots at time,” Morris said. “But credit coach (Joey) McCullough and his group. They played hard. That’s a good football team over there and their running back is the real deal.”
Jenkins, however, wasn’t alone in eclipsing the 200-yard mark on the ground. East senior Ismail Mahdi fueled a game effort by the Panthers to begin Friday’s contest. The Panthers mustered 269 yards in the first half, finding the end zone on three of their first four series to pull within 21-20 with 6:44 left in the second quarter. East produced its share of big plays in between, including a 72-yard touchdown run by Mahdi and a 61-yard touchdown pass from sophomore Drew DeVillier to junior Rushil Patel.
“We did a lot of good things,” McCullough said. “We’re a young football team and that’s plenty to clean up, but that’s a good football team over there. I didn’t like having to burn some timeouts early on and those last five minutes of the half is the kind of thing you’re always concerned about with how quickly they can score.”
Mahdi finished the ballgame with 233 rushing yards and a touchdown on 7.8 yards per carry. DeViller’s first start behind center netted 244 passing yards and two touchdowns.
“[Mahdi] lost his mom on the first day of padded practice last year in the spring,” McCullough said. “To overcome that and see the work that he has put in, you can tell his strength. That’s why he’s one of our captains — it’s not just because he’s a great athlete, he’s a great kid.”
The Panthers had a tougher go sustaining that firepower as Friday’s contest wore on. Trailing 35-20 at the halftime, East was shut out in the third quarter — muffing a kick to begin the half and then succumbing to a goal-line stand by the Allen defense with 6:09 left in the third quarter where Mahdi was devoured for losses of yardage on consecutive runs near the end zone.
“I think the momentum change was when [junior David Hicks Jr.] made a sack right before the half,” Morris said. “That lifted us up a bit. You could tell they were playing with big eyes and were a little star-struck. They’re still kids so that’s to be expected.”
Hicks was named the Tom Landry Classic’s defensive MVP award, sacking DeVillier on the last play of the first half and helping anchor Allen’s third-quarter goal-line stand. Jenkins, fresh off his career night, earned offensive MVP honors.
The Eagles return to action at 7 p.m. Friday when a home outing against Atascocita, while East welcomes Lake Highlands that same time from Kimbrough Stadium.
“I saw a lot of good things out of our young quarterback and [Mahdi],” McCullough said. “I thought our kids played hard. I thought their attitude and everything they’re doing matched their character. They gave it everything they had tonight.”
Chad Morris posted a record of 169-38 in 16 seasons as a high school head coach. He began his coaching career in 1992 at Eustace HS, where he spent 6 years. In 1998, Morris moved to Elysian Fields, guiding the Yellowjackets to back-to-back state finals in 1998 and 1999.
In January 2000, Morris took the Bay City AD/head coaching position. He led the Blackcats to the 4A Division I state championship in 2000. In 2001, he led Bay City to the state finals.
From 2003-2007, Morris coached the Stephenville Yellowjackets, leading the Yellowjackets to the state semifinals before losing to Matthew Stafford and Highland Park, 41-38, in the final 33 seconds of the game.
During the 2008 and 2009 seasons, Morris led Lake Travis to back-to-back undefeated 4A Division I state titles. The Cavaliers finished the 2008 season as the AP No. 2 ranked team in the country. Morris' overall record at Lake Travis was 32-0.
In 2010, Morris moved from high school coaching to college when he became Tulsa's offensive coordinator. After helping the Golden Hurricane to a 10-3 season, Morris was hired by Clemson as the offensive coordinator from 2011-2014. He then served as the head coach at SMU (2015-17) and Arkansas (2017-19) and most recently as the offensive coordinator at Auburn in 2019.
He was recently named the head coach at Allen.
Chad Morris speaks at a press conference held by the Allen ISD to announce Morris as the new head football coach in Allen on Thursday, April 1, 2021.(Stewart F. House / Special Contributor)
By Joseph Hoyt
2:15 PM on Apr 1, 2021
ALLEN — When word of Terry Gambill’s decision to retire reached Chad Morris, the former college head coach decided to send Gambill a text message wishing him the best. Morris then turned to his wife, Paula, and mentioned the head coach opening at Allen.
“Hey,” he recalled saying to her, “would you have a problem if something happened?”
By throwing out the question, Morris was signaling his interest in returning to his roots as a high school coach and — at least for the imminent future — leaving behind what once appeared to be a promising, up-and-coming college coaching career.
Would his wife be intrigued by the possibility of trading in the Southeastern Conference for arguably the biggest high school job in Texas, and maybe the country?
“She kind of grinned ear-to-ear,” Morris said, “and I think she’s had enough of me sitting around the house for a good while.”
On Wednesday, exactly two weeks after the Allen job was posted, Morris was announced as the school’s next head football coach. The former SMU and Arkansas head coach said he had entertained job opportunities at both the college and NFL level, but he saw Allen as a good fit for what he wanted to do next.
The combination of a former college head coach mixed with the biggest high school in Texas is sure to raise the already sky-high expectations that comes with the Allen football program. Morris, a coach with three UIL state championship titles in his past, is aware of those expectations. He met with his new football team on Wednesday and said he was transparent about exactly that.
“I just assured them they’re going to get everything I’ve got,” Morris, wearing a new Allen Eagles sweater, told reporters on Thursday. “And we’re going to give every ounce of energy we have to being an Allen Eagle and to being together and to building on the expectations to win. You’re an Allen Eagle, you’re expected to win and you’re expected to win championships, and the expectations are not going to change.”
It comes with the territory for a program that’s never lost a game inside its $60 million stadium, has won five state championships and enters next season with a regular season winning streak that’s lasted 83 games. But Morris has his own high school winning streak on the line, too. In two years at Lake Travis he went 32-0 and won back-to-back state championships before he left to be an assistant coach at Tulsa.
Morris has said multiple times in the past that he never really stopped being a high school coach at heart, but his success at the high school level led him to the college ranks.
He eventually turned the job at Tulsa into an offensive coordinator job at Clemson, which he turned into a head coaching job at SMU. In his third season at SMU, he went 7-5 before taking the head coaching job at Arkansas. He signed a six-year contract worth an average $3.5 million per year, but after nearly two seasons there he was fired. He spent last season as the offensive coordinator at Auburn, but after head coach Gus Malzahn was fired, Morris wasn’t retained.
After Auburn, Morris got his belongings in a U-Haul truck and started driving back to east Texas, where he said he’s been living the past few months. On the drive back, without a next job to prepare for, Morris had the chance to reflect about where he wanted his career to go next. He kept thinking about his two kids and being closer to them. His daughter, Mackenzie, is a recruiting operations coordinator for North Texas football and his son, Chandler, is a quarterback at TCU.
From a career standpoint, Morris also thought about something that had been missing.
“That missing link is the ability to impact lives,” Morris said, “and bring something to the coaches of today that are coming into this business that mean mentoring.”
Allen offered a chance to accomplish that and be closer to his kids.
“I don’t know if I was retired,” Morris said, “but that lured me back into coaching at a place where I think the culture [has been] established.”
Morris isn’t the first person to go from college head coach back to Texas high school football. Todd Dodge, for example, went from being a state champion at Southlake Carroll to the head coach at North Texas. After four seasons there he was dismissed. He started coaching at Marble Falls and then Austin Westlake, where he’s been for seven seasons. He’s led Westlake to state championship titles the last two seasons, including last year’s 6A Division I championship win against his son, Riley, now the head coach at Carroll.
Morris didn’t rule out a return to coaching at the college level one day, but he said he’s excited to be the head coach at Allen — a job that provided everything he needed right now.
“When you start looking and start talking to college coaches all across the country, everyone knows who Allen is,” Morris said, “and the quality of players that come out of here.”
And, especially now, the state championship expectations that come with this combination.